A unique collaboration between the UK’s Tong Engineering and the French company MAF Agrobotic, both machinery manufacturers, resulted in a win/win turnkey optical onion sorting line for British producer Elveden Farms.
According to a release from Tong, the line has both minimized labor needs while increasing capacity and yield in Elveden’s onion processing operations.
“Based on the Norfolk/Suffolk border, Elveden Farms markets over 45,000 tonnes of onions each year to the supermarket, wholesale, and processing sectors, handling up to 300 tons of onions per day,” the release said. “
Elveden Farms Director Andrew Francis was quoted as saying, “Our requirements for the new optical sorting line were very specific. We employed an independent, specialist consultant to research the market and determine the optical sorting machine that would provide the highest quality results on our onion crop. As the UK distributor of MAF Agrobotic equipment, Tong presented the optical sorting capabilities of MAF, which could be integrated within a complete Tong line. Working closely on the project with Tong and MAF for almost two years, performing many tests with Elveden onions, it was clear that the turnkey optical sorting solution they could offer was going to be the best. We were very impressed by the scale of MAF Agrobotic expertise and development resources which provided confidence that the bespoke solution would fulfill our current and future requirements.”
The Elveden line features custom built infeed equipment from Tong, “with a focus on effective topping of onions to ensure the best presentation of crop to the MAF sorter, for optimum sizing and defect sorting,” the release continued, “For maximum flexibility, the Tong design includes both conventional fan topping alongside scroll topping equipment with bypass options.”
It continued, “Once the onions have been received and topped, MAF’s flagship optical sorting machine, the Pomone, weight-grades crop as well as externally and internally sorting. The 10-lane model of the Pomone is capable of sorting over 30 tons of onions per hour at an average onion weight of 130 grams.
The Pomone sorter features high-performance optical sorting technology. “The G7 is MAF’s exclusive LED external optical sorting system, which uses cutting-edge imagery to detect any blemishes or defects to the onion’s skin finish,” the release said, “Its ability to identify blemishes on both white and red onions is a unique, unrivaled attribute of the MAF Pomone. In addition, highly efficient artificial intelligence algorithms can be used to allow the G7 technology to progressively learn defect specifications for even better categorization. The G7 camera system rapidly captures multiple images of each onion, enabling extremely accurate and consistent external sorting. This, coupled with accurate size grading ensures near-perfect sizing of crop.
In addition, the MAF-designed line provides internal defect detection capabilities with patented IDD8 internal defect technology (previously IDD4).
“The IDD8 detection system effectively identifies internal defects within the onions including accurate detection of translucents, base rot, neck rot, fusarium rotten core and several other internal issues. Any internal defects within the load are easily recorded and directed to the correct outlet. The new and advanced IDD8 is very easy to use and is managed from a user-friendly interface connected to MAF Ophea software, which is seamlessly integrated with Elveden’s ERP system for detailed data management.
In addition to this advanced MAF-exclusive internal and external optical sorting technology, the MAF Pomone also uses Insight 2, which is a halogen, near infra-red optical sorting system like those more commonly known and utilised throughout the industry,” the release noted.
Tong Sales Manager Charlie Rich said, “The unique MAF external, and particularly internal optical defect technology sets the MAF Pomone sorter apart from other optical sorters on the market, detecting defects that are not visible with standard optical vision. Our long-standing relationship with MAF allowed us to work in close partnership to design and manufacture a completely bespoke optical sorting facility for Elveden. It incorporates state-of-the-art handling technology to ensure the most advanced and automated processing, with minimal labour requirements.”
Francis added, “We have significantly reduced the number of inspection staff required to process our onion crop, so much so that for some customers we are able to process their onions without any inspection staff on the line. The MAF sorter has noticeably increased our throughput and our yield of saleable onions. We are now able to sort crop so effectively that we are often saving good onions that may have previously gone to waste. This means we are utilizing our crop more efficiently than ever before, knowing that the right crop is directed to the right outlet for sale.”